The long legal wrangle between Butterfields Auctioneers and Malcolm X's family has ended with an agreement to return hundreds of his documents and personal effects to his six daughters, who today announced that the treasure trove of writings, photographs and memorabilia now is housed as a formal archival collection at Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
"We as a family don't mind sharing Malcolm. We're proud of Malcolm," said Attallah Shabazz, the eldest daughter. Emotion briefly silenced her as she described identifying her father's missing documents last year and seeing his personal Koran for the first time since she was 10 years old and watched him gunned down by assassins in 1965.
"I took it home that night . . . and just lay with it on my chest."
That Koran was among the items that the Schomburg's director, Howard Dodson, described with obvious relish today; after all, receiving the collection is something of a coup in the world of scholarly archives. The Schomburg, a branch of the New York Public Library, competed against several universities.
Two wooden shipping crates filled with Malcolm X materials sat onstage as Dodson donned white gloves and displayed a few items, such as the last speech Malcolm X delivered before his break with the Nation of Islam and photos of Malcolm with Cuban president Fidel Castro at the Teresa Hotel in Harlem.
Most tantalizing for scholars and other students of Malcolm X, the collection includes five diaries Malcolm wrote on his travels to Africa and to Mecca. That latter trip, in 1964, marked his political and spiritual transformation, from a race-based Muslim who adhered to the messianic teachings of Elijah Muhammad, to a traditional and more humanistic Muslim not defined by racial separatism. He changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz.
He died very much a work in progress, and his personal writings reflect "his constant search for clarity for himself and for the public he was going to be presenting to," said Dodson. "He was as ruthless a critic of himself as he was of the society in which he lived."
The recovery of the documents, which arrived at the Schomburg on Dec. 31, ends an episode that troubled scholars and, more pointedly, traumatized the family. Early last year, and much to the surprise of Malcolm X's family, Butterfields Auctioneers in San Francisco and eBay on the Internet announced that numerous items belonging to Malcolm X were to be auctioned. The family had no clue where the documents came from.
As it turned out, much to the family's chagrin, they came from the Shabazz family home in Mount Vernon, north of New York. One of the sisters, Malikah Shabazz, took numerous boxes of documents with her when she moved to Florida in 1999, according to an account provided last year by Joseph Fleming, the Shabazz family lawyer.
She rented a storage locker for the boxes, but then fell behind on payments. The storage company auctioned off the locker's contents. There were two purchasers, including a Florida auction house and an individual who realized the treasure he'd bought and took it to Butterfields in San Francisco. Butterfields described its scheduled sale as "the most significant collection of Malcolm X material ever brought to the auction market."
Only when the auction was announced last March did the family realize that some of its private collection was missing. But the documents were tied up in ownership claims between the storage company, the Florida purchasers and Butterfields. Fleming was blunt today when asked how he stopped last year's auction.
"We stopped eBay by threatening eBay," he said. "First you threaten, then you talk, then you reach agreement." He would not divulge any details of the agreement or whether any monetary compensation was involved.
The family has been dogged by questions of how and why one of the sisters removed some of the father's documents without telling the others or, apparently, without their consent. They have denied any rift in the ranks, but the questions still strike a nerve, a year after the episode.
"I am absolutely in love with my mother's daughters. Am I clear?" Attallah Shabazz said forcefully today.
"We the Shabazz family are always put in the headlines as a traumatic family, as a family of tragedy, as a saga of woe. We all have trials. But there's always enlightenment in the process."
The six sisters, who carefully guarded their privacy, have become more and more public over the past year -- especially on the issue of preserving their father's legacy. Without going into specifics, Fleming, the family attorney, suggested he would be pursuing other privately held collections of Malcolm X papers whose provenance may be questionable.
"We are pursuing all of Malcolm's legacy," he said.
That Malcolm X's legacy could be put up for grabs to the highest bidder -- as it nearly was last year -- outraged the family. Attallah spoke of it as a deep violation.
"One thing that really plagued me: when the information was on eBay and everybody thought there was a fair chance at a bidding war for something that was integrally ours, at base ours," she said.
While the Schomburg inventories, catalogues and preserves the materials, which will take 18 months, the collection will not be available to researchers. But the Shabazz family, which retains ownership, will be closely involved with the Schomburg's handling of the Malcolm X legacy.
Turning to Dodson and Paul LeClerc, president of the New York Public Library, Attallah Shabazz said: "And my intention, while you go through your professional process, is to be nearby so that we bridge the gap between the data of Malcolm Shabazz and the reality of the spirit of Malcolm Shabazz. My father is not a guessing game for me. Is that clear? He's not a concept. He's not a case study. He's a real human being that I still walk with despite the fact that I watched him being gunned down."